Harry S. Truman Library and Museum
Harry S. Truman was the 33rd president of the United States, serving from 1945-1952. His term as president covered the end of World War II, the early stages of the Cold War, and the beginning of the Korean War. Additionally, before entering politics, Truman served in WWI and was affected by the Great Depression. He is possibly most famous for his decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan and for his Cold War policies of the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift, and containment. In addition to his role in these global conflicts, Truman was also instrumental in the development of NATO and the UN. When he left office, Truman was the most hated president in history for whom we have polling data, but he is now remembered as being one of America’s best presidents.
He was the first American president to plan and build a presidential library, which is today located in his hometown of Independence, Missouri. The library offers a wide variety of educational resources.
The library’s main education landing page includes dozens of links, many of which are more applicable to American history and government. They also offer more general resource packets for both students and teachers. These include a list of student research files on a wide range of topics. The student research files represent a pre-selected list of topics and primary sources which students could use to conduct a small-scale research project on Truman. The teacher resources include pre-made lesson plans written and tested by other educators. The lesson plans cover a wide variety of topics as wide as Modern Terrorism and as specific as the 1953 CIA Coup in Iran. The database is searchable. Lesson plans include required time frame, suggested grade level, subject tags, a brief description, learning objectives, standards, materials, skill takeaways, and a breakdown of how to conduct the lesson. Also available are searchable databases for photos and primary sources. These sources may be useful for educators wishing to discuss any aspect of Truman’s life and presidency, including such topics as desegregation, decolonization, global conflict, global peace, communism, espionage, trade, nationalism, etc. Among the student resources, teacher resources, and source databases, users will have access to materials with which they can discuss practically everything that happened in the world during Truman’s life (1883-1973) and even some things outside that time frame. Lesson plans often have very little to do with Truman himself and include topics with racial and gender diversity (such as the African American Experience in World War I) as well as thematic diversity (such as Appreciate the Jazz Age and Bad Speeches). These resources could be applied anywhere within social studies, as well as debate, speech, music, science, English, and journalism. The best represented topics are the early Cold War, World War I, and the American Civil War.
The library offers a video series on YouTube of recorded public programs which covers many Truman topics such as the Marshall Plan or Truman’s Life Through Objects. Their YouTube channel also offers primary source videos of Truman talking about the events of his life. The Playlist tab of their YouTube page categorizes these videos into categories including the Cold War, the Recognition of Israel, World War II, World War I, and Truman’s foreign travels.
More specific teaching resources include Advise the President and The Spy’s Dilemma. In Advise the President, students have the opportunity to roleplay historic global Presidential decisions for five American presidents. Though several topics are better suited to teaching American history, these include advising Bill Clinton about the Kosovo Crisis, advising Dwight D. Eisenhower about Soviet expansionism, and advising Harry S. Truman about the emerging Cold War threat. All lessons come with a moderator guide for the instructor to lead their students through the experience and a document briefing packet for students. The experiences are designed to let students work either individually or on teams to read the briefing packets and act as advisors to the president, offering suggestions for a direction which the United States might take in each scenario. The packets also include a summative discussion of what the president did in each situation. Advise the President may be helpful in teaching students about the individual conflicts as well as more broadly about the presidential decision-making process, American’s role in global conflicts, and internationalism. Educators who wish to augment the experience may want to include primary source documents from the online databases. Doing so may allow students to more fully simulate making these decision as presidential advisors and may familiarize them with critical reading and thinking skills.
The Spy’s Dilemma also offers teacher materials, though users must register in order to receive them, likely to prevent students from accessing the documents. In this game, students act as a Soviet spy and enter a timed room where they must click through primary source documents and choose 5 to smuggle out of the United States to help the Soviets. After students choose which documents to photograph, they can submit these documents to Stalin and they receive a report which tells them how useful the documents they chose were to the Soviet Premier. In order to receive this report, they must input their name and their teacher’s email so instructors can also receive a report of how students did. This activity may be useful for engaging students with primary source documents, critical thinking and reading, and getting students to think more deeply about espionage and the Cold War. However, on the home page for the activity the mission brief informs students that they are playing for their life and in the final report students are ranked on a scale of being kissed by Stalin to being summarily executed. The playful references to death may not be appropriate for all age levels and may require teacher explanation. Finally, having students act on behalf of the Soviet Union and Stalin may not be desirable for all educators and may be something you wish to discuss with school administrators beforehand.
Overall, the Truman Library has a wide variety of resources which can be used by many age levels both within the classroom and as homework.